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How Long Does It Take for Skincare Products to Actually Work?

We’re all guilty of purchasing a new skincare product with hopes it will magically fix our skin woes in a night, only to be disappointed when you don’t wake up the next morning with skin as perfect as the beauty influencer who encouraged you to buy the product in the first place. 

But before you give up all hope and decide to splash more money on another skincare product that seems to be trending on social media, it’s important to remember that just like dieting, there is no such thing as a “quick fix”. When it comes to skincare products, it’s all about consistency with keeping up a regular routine.

However, what about the times when you don’t start seeing results? How long should you wait before writing a product off?

How long does it take for skincare products to work?

Unfortunately, there is no one answer for this as it varies between the types of products, ingredients used, the individual’s skin cycle, the individual's diet and lifestyle choices, and the desired effect wanted from each product. Generally speaking, it takes about 28 days for skin cells to turn over, which means that majority of products need at least one month of use before you’ll see results.

But for a more in-depth rundown, we asked skincare expert and founder of Australia’s number one K-beauty online store STYLE STORY, Lauren Lee, to explain roughly how long the waiting period is for each type of skincare product. 

Cleansers: Immediately to one month

OK, you’re probably thinking “but you just mentioned no products are a quick fix!”. Technically speaking, the job of a good cleanser is to clean your face daily, so that’s why it’ll do its job “immediately”. 

“There are also plenty of cleansers with extra functions, like managing oily skin or calming blemishes,” Lee notes. “Give it about a month to see these additional benefits kick in.”

To know if your cleanser is actually doing its job, “after cleansing, your face should look clean and even-toned, with dirt and makeup removed. After rinsing, your skin should feel soft and smooth; not dry, greasy, or tight.”

Toners: 1-2 weeks

Like cleansers, toners should help clean your skin immediately and your skin should feel smoother, softer, and calmer. “Remember that toner is not designed to be an extra step in cleansing. You should be toning clean skin,” Lee says. “If you notice any makeup, sunscreen, or grime on your cotton pad after toning, you’ll know you didn’t cleanse your face properly. The double cleanse method is usually the best way to remedy this - cleanse first with an oil cleanser, and follow up with a foam cleanser. 

For toners with added benefits like a hydrating type of toner or specific functions like pore care, expect to wait at least two weeks to see a change in your skin. 

Retinol: 4-6 weeks

If you’re not across it, retinol is a vitamin A derivative that has become a popular ingredient for its skin rejuvenation benefits. It’s touted as an essential for treating fine lines and mild scars or marks caused by breakouts rather than active acne. In fact, Lee says that “there are few ingredients more effective for smoothing out uneven skin and guarding against acne than retinols and retinoids.”

As for how long you’ll need to wait for these results, you’ll need to consider the strength you’ve chosen. “Prescription retinols showing smoother, brighter skin in as little as 4-6 weeks”, while pharmacy brands will take a little longer. This doesn’t mean you should opt for the highest strength retinol: “the stronger the strength, the stronger the side effects,” Lee warns. “High-strength retinols will definitely leave your skin looking worse for wear at first. Expect dryness, flaking, and discomfort for a few weeks if using high-strength products.”

Serums: 6-8 weeks

“There are a huge range of serums for all sorts of skincare goals, which makes it hard to predict how long it will take for the results to become visible.

“As a general rule of thumb though, you should see results from most serums within 6-8 weeks with consistent usage.”

A Vitamin C-based product might take a little longer (depending on the strength and severity of the issue you’re trying to fix, of course), with a wait time of 6-12 weeks. 

Eye creams: 4-8 weeks

“Depending on the severity of the issues you are trying to treat, you can usually see results as early as four weeks.

“The other thing to keep in mind is to treat your body kindly as well because many issues around the eye area are caused by external factors like lack of sleep, stress, poor hydration, and pollution.” 

Face moisturizers: 1-2 weeks

Obviously, applying a good amount of creamy moisturizer to your face will leave your skin feeling more hydrated, soft, and plump once it's absorbed. But with consistent use, “you should expect the full results of your moisturizer within 1-2 weeks.”

AHAs & BHAs: Right away, but peaks at 12 weeks 

So you’ve seen these terms floating around, but what exactly are they? AHAs and BHAs are liquid exfoliators that are essentially mild acids that remove things that can dull skin like dead skin cells and clogged pores. AHA’s are water-soluble hydroxy acids, and are great for treating dull, dry, lackluster skin, while BHAs are all about unclogging pores and work wonders for oily, acne-prone skin. 

When it comes to how long you’ll have to wait to see results from these two ingredients, Lee says slow and steady wins the race, and patience is of utmost importance. “Don’t be tempted to up your strength just because you don’t see results right away,” she warns. “Your skin's surface doesn't always show negative reactions immediately, even though damage may be taking place.”

Acne spot treatments: 12 hours

That pesky pimple can pop out of nowhere, but unfortunately, it will take a little longer to get rid of them. The key is to not squeeze or touch it - wait for it to do its thing until it’s ready to be popped. What you can do in the meantime is use a hydrocolloid patch to help speed up the healing process and minimize the appearance of your spots within 8-12 hours. We love the Subi Perfect Pimple Patch. 

Exfoliating scrubs and clay masks: Immediately

If the product has worked, your skin should look and feel smoother with smaller-looking pores right away. 

“For the best long-term results, you’ll need to regularly use the product as the results will tape off after a few days to about a week.”

How do you know if a product isn’t right for you?

Just because one product works wonders for one person, it doesn’t mean it’ll do the same for you. The quickest and easiest way to test if a product will be right for you is to patch test it. According to Lee, there are three separate tests you can run to test for three different reactions:

1. Test for allergies

Apply the product behind your ear, If your skin tingles or breaks out in red, bumpy, and splotchy patches, discontinue use immediately. If there is no reaction, you can move onto the second test. 

2. Test for irritation

Apply the product to a discrete part of your face or neck. If irritation occurs, it’s important to note the kind of irritation you are experiencing. If you are testing out an acid – that is, a product containing a BHA, AHA, glycolic acid, lactic acid, and so forth – this is a normal reaction and doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem.

If no unusual irritation occurs, you can move onto the last test, which is to check whether the product causes you to break out or your pores to become clogged.

3. Test for Clogging

Apply the product to the areas you experience the most breakouts. If you experience cysts, whiteheads, clogged pores, or active acne, this is not the product for you.

How long should you patch test for?

According to Lee, “the ideal isolation test period is two weeks for each product, but some people will be able to tell immediately whether a product is working for them or not. 

“If you can’t tell immediately, remember that the skin renews itself every 28 days, so reassess after a month whether you think the product is really working for you.”

Lauren Lee is the founder and CEO of STYLE STORY and host of podcast 'The Korean Beauty Show'. Follow her on Instagram @lauren.kbeauty and STYLE STORY @stylestory_kbeauty. 

Want more skincare tips? Here's the most simple nighttime skincare routine for glowing skin.

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